touch

A strange thing has been happening lately.

I’m a full-time student. I’m a writer (if you’re here, then you probably already know that). I work an office job and do a good amount of graphic design. I’ve recently picked up embroidery. I love to boulder, though I haven’t been able to visit the wall in a while. And at one time in my life, I played piano quite frequently, which I hope to return to one day.

I love these things, but lately they’ve been painful.

I’m not using some dramatic spiritual metaphor here. I mean real, physical pain. My fingers are not my own anymore. They’re stiff and ungainly. When I wake in the morning they’re already aching, and getting ready for the day has become an effort. Holding a toothbrush, cracking an egg, tying my shoelaces⁠—these mundane tasks have become challenges. Just earlier this evening, I had to have my roommate open a can of soup for me.

It’s a strange, frightening, frustrating feeling. I’ll put a pen to paper and the result looks like I’m re-learning how to write: all scrawling, unkempt scribbles in the general shape of letters. Or I’ll set my fingers to a keyboard and be taken off guard by how clumsy they are. Even as I type this, I have to very intentionally direct my fingers to the right keys: o n e b y o n e. Tasks that came effortlessly just weeks ago now take double the time and hurt me in ways I’d never known they could.

It’s that season of the academic year when I’m in sore need of my hands; the advent of finals means plenty of typing and writing. And without my normal leisure activities⁠—embroidery, climbing, writing just for fun, even playing the xbox⁠—I’m going a little stir-crazy.

The doctor says it’s overuse, probably. There isn’t much to be done except rest and stretch, but resting is difficult with papers and exams looming on the horizon. 

It’s more demoralizing than I’d like it to be. After all, at the end of the day, they’re just hands, and I am a whole person. But these fingers⁠—they’re what I use to touch the world and those I love. I lay them on the backs of my friends, run them through the hair of my tired roommates, use them to create beautiful art. I miss being able to do these things effortlessly, without first mentally weighing if the result is worth the pain.

Maybe there’s a hidden gift here. I am, more than ever, aware of all the things I use my hands for⁠—all the ways I’m driven to create beautiful things with them and all the ways I’m inclined to extend love and grace through them. I’m all the more proud of my writing and art, as they take sacrifice to bring to life. And I even have a new appreciation for the finely crafted wonders that these hands really are.

(But I’d still like to be able to touch this world without the pain.)

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